Travelwatchdog - The only truly independent consumer voice in Travel

Accident or Illness Abroad?

the very best legal assistance

Recent Complaints of Note
Spend Winter in the Algarve

Printer Friendly Version -

2012 Update: Fuel is inexpensive in Spain  and costs €1.38 per litre for petrol and €1.33 for diesel as opposed to €1.61 and €1.69 in UK, but other prices rocketed at the same time as sterling suffered the Brown/Darling effect. In a small Portuguese supermarket a local sliced white loaf can cost € 3.50 or over £3. Six mediocre Lamb chops were available in LIDL, probably the least expensive supermarket, at €14.20 (more than £13 sterling). True, the Portuguese live mainly on the Fish, but that also has rocketed in price. Bottled gas for cooking has also risen in price by some 30%.

Golfers will have noticed a lot of TV advertising for the Algarve as trade falls off. Needless to say, the Monte Rei course mentioned in my first article (below) is in financial difficulty as will be many others in years to come. There is a singular lack of business flexibility in management of these courses and there seems to remain the sense of 'premium product' which, with developments in Turkey and Eastern Europe is no longer the case. There will be a few bloody noses before realism strikes those at the helm.

The people of Portugal remain charming and inviting and the weather is superb, but travellers and golfers can do far better outside the Euro Zone which has damaged Portugal beyond measure.

On 26th January at 3 p.m. a cloud went by, obscuring the sun for nearly ten minutes. At the same time the temperature dropped suddenly to 15C and, for a few minutes the air felt quite chilly. Fortunately, is a rare occurrence and it is often day after day of wall to wall sunshine. During 8 weeks in the Algarve we suffered two days rain, two days showers and two days of cloud.   The remainder was predominantly sunshine with average shade temperatures of between 16 and 18C

We left UK   shortly before Christmas. Three cars, six adults and 5 dogs, setting forth to spend 2 months away from the worst of the British winter. The first stage of our journey took us from Portsmouth to St Malo on Brittany Ferries Pont Aven .   The choice was made because the vessel has kennels for dogs and, we thought, offered the opportunity for a night's sleep before an early morning start on the French roads on our way to Portugal's Algarve region.   This part of the planning was a serious error. The Pont Aven is a quite outstanding vessel with the sort of luxury that one usually associates with cruise liners. Unfortunately, the kennels are on the top deck just forward of the main stack and offer the most horrendous noise and vibration to be found anywhere on the ship. For the dogs it is a traumatic nightmare. Add to this the need to collect the dogs from the kennels at 04.30 and a hellish journey is complete. Lesson learnt: Go Dover to Calais during the day and make an overnight stop at a hotel somewhere a few hours south of Calais. Save money, get a decent night's sleep and save the dogs a bad experience. Fortunately, there are a lot of dog friendly hotels in France, so booking overnight accommodation is not a problem.

Thus, at before 6 a.m. it was tired adults and traumatised dogs that disembarked the Pont Aven en-route Bordeaux for an overnight stop. In winter, the excellent French auto-routes are very lightly used and, despite several stops for coffee etc. We made Bordeaux (Cestas) and the Campanile Hotel in a journey time of about 6 hours, paying some €25 in toll charges. The journey is something over 350 miles of easy driving. The hotel room costs €70 for the night.   For day 2 we went for a longer leg, with the objective of leaving a final leg where we could be in the Algarve by a reasonable time to get settled into our accommodation.   With this in mind we did Bordeaux to Salamanca (430 miles) on day 2. Generally this was over auto-routes, but there was some single carriageway driving.   Again, auto-route tolls amounted to about €25, but the night's accommodation for a double room in the superb Mozárbez hotel was a mere €30 for a hotel of 4-star quality.


There is a tremendous amount of accommodation available in summer holiday resorts during the winter months. Local villas, typically with three bedrooms and a couple of bathrooms and within walking distance of the sea fetch about €750 per calendar month including all utilities, a weekly clean, and a fortnightly change of linen. In summer similar properties fetch €800 plus per week. Inclusion of utilities is an important factor as the night temperature can be as low as 7? and the houses are generally designed to be cool in summer rather than warm in winter, with fully tiled floors throughout (some are fitted with carpets).   Apartments are similarly well appointed but are a lot cheaper to rent.   If you are seeking winter accommodation, be fussy.   There is a lot of property on the market and owners are generally expecting to make their money in summer. Winter occupation is a bonus to them in many ways. Not only do they get some income, but occupation means that they are freed from problems of fabric deterioration due to humidity etc. that are far worse when a house is shut up and unoccupied. In addition, there is a massive over-provision of holiday accommodation in Spain and Portugal and a dip in the European economies means that even summer lettings are becoming precarious.

As an example of what is available, we are occupied a three bed, three bath villa about 150 metres from miles of golden sand. The cost amounted to about £1,000 for two months, some of   which cost was saved by not occupying our UK property during the worst part of winter. It turns out that this was more than we need have paid, but first time out you are feeling your way. In the same street there are other winter renters, mainly from Holland, some of whom return year after year.

Cost of Living

Since adopting the Euro, cost of living in Portugal has increased, but it is still substantially less than in UK. There is a wide availability of UK brand foods and surprisingly, although some of them come at a premium price, a good number are cheaper. Many of the supermarkets are owned or strongly influenced by the French and there is a ready availability of staple foods, most at prices substantially below those in the UK.   Fruit and vegetables are fresh and inexpensive. The Portuguese eat 13 times as much fish as they do meat and freshly landed fish is always available. Again prices are lower than in UK. Meat, particularly Chicken, Pork and Beef, is readily available and remarkably cheap.

Most towns have their own local market where the best fresh, high quality meat, fish and vegetables are available almost every day. Clothing and textiles are also low cost as is the excellent wine produced in Portugal.   Beer seems to come from all over Europe and is at a low price. If you are a newspaper addict, most daily newspapers are now printed in Spain and are available on the day of publication. They are expensive with, as an example, the Daily Telegraph costing €3.20 (just over £2.30) on weekdays and €5 on Sundays. Something of a luxury, but matched several times over by daily cost of living savings on other items.

What is there to do?

The main reason for coming to Portugal in Winter is to enjoy decent weather . Shade temperatures average 16 to 18?, but in the sun it is naturally quite a bit hotter.   At the going down of the sun, the temperature drops to about 10? and heating is needed. Cloud and rain do occur, but six days out of 60 is not difficult to bear!

A lot of properties are equipped with dishes and receivers capable of getting Sky free-to-air TV channels which includes BBC and ITV, together with a lot of others, but excluding Channels 4 and 5.   If you intending an extended stay, you will probably want to ensure that UK satellite TV is available. Stick out for it. Installation costs c €300, so an owner will find it worth while to provide the installation in order to secure a winter let. This is in their interests because unoccupied properties can become damp and suffer deterioration of decor and overall fabric.

At Lent each year Portugal, like Brazil, gets involved in Carnival .   This is not as crazy as Rio de Janeiro, but it is still three days of colour and music, with the Algarve's major event being at Loule, a few kilometers from Faro, that attracts thousands of participants.

Golf   is a big attraction and Portugal has some fine courses. However prices are rising to a point where it is cheaper to go just across the border to Spain.   Course owners have a strange sense of business in this part of the world. Try to get a discount at the course and you will be told that if you want a discount you will have to book through an agent in town.   As an example, Benamor Golf, a fairly average course near Tavira, will charge the casual winter visitor €85 for a round. Go to the agent just outside the course entrance and you can book the same round for €56.  




A typical terrace in the January sun



In Winter dogs are welcome on beaches and are in their element


Sardines landed by local fishermen - the Gulls fight for their share


The picturesque harbour at Tavira



A typical villa for rent - Altura


This is my house - I'm in charge here!



Assume they are paying the agent at least 10% they are taking less than €50 for a round that they could have sold for more.   Monte Rei, another fairly average course, but with Jack Nicklaus on the designers name board (there is no evidence that he did much more than add his name) charges €150 per round in winter and €190 in summer. The crazy thing is that some people pay it!!   The consequence of this over-pricing is that it is less expensive to cross the border into Spain where there is slightly more realism.

Portugal is still under-developed in many areas and offers a lot to see. Moreover, the Spanish border is just a few miles down the road and gives added opportunities for the traveller. Along the coast there are still fishing villages where fresh fish is landed and can be purchased each day.   Away from the coast there are still picturesque towns and village where life has changed little over the years and if you are an antique collector, or just want to to spend a day or two looking back in time, this is the place to go.


Distance:   The Southern Algarve is almost exactly 1400 miles from Calais.   With the exception of about 50 miles, it is possible to cruise the whole journey on motorways.

Route Planning:   If you don't have built-in Sat Nav in your car, buy something like the TomTom XL1 Europe.   However, make certain that you also take an up-to-date European road atlas. TomTom will be invaluable, but around northern Spain there are a lot of new motorways and motorway changes that are more likely to be on the paper map than on SatNav. You need this map to find alternative routes if TomTom gets confused. Being told to "turn right now" in the middle of a 3 Km tunnel can be difficult to cope with!!

This is a journey that can easily be achieved within three days with just two overnight stops.   However, the most direct route goes through some interesting areas that might make a few more stops an attractive option

Fuel Costs:   At the time of writing (March 2008) Petrol in France and Portugal is marginally cheaper UK but in Spain it is around the £1 per litre mark. Diesel is less expensive than petrol in all three countries and in Spain is about 85p per litre.

Hotels:    In winter there is no need to book hotels, even if you are taking dogs. In France, all Campanile chain hotels, Ibis and most Best Western as well as many independent hotels , will allow pets. The problem with booking is that you have to fix your stopping points before the journey. This can be a problem if you are well ahead or well behind schedule. In the former instant you may feel like putting another 100 miles on the clock to reduce the commitment for the following leg.   However, if you take the telephone number of Eurobookings (   tel: +31(0)20 712 5600), you can pre-select some possible stopping places and make a booking by telephone about an hour before scheduled arrival and still get a good discounted price.   Before you accept a hotel room in France, have a look at what they are offering. There are some real fleapits in France, even among well known names like Ibis!   In Spain there are a lot of newer hotels near the motorways that are very reasonable priced for winter travellers.   Expect to pay €50 per night for a room without breakfast.

Accommodation:   There is an awful lot of accommodation available in the Algarve during the winter months.   As a general rule, the Algarve west of Faro is fast becoming a concrete jungle so you are better to head for the areas of Tavira, Monte Gordo, Altura or Villa Real de Santo Antonio, where development has been less frenetic.   A nice villa near the sea can be obtained for €750 pcm including all utilities or less than €500 pcm without. Apartments can be at half of that sum.   Make certain that UK Satellite TV is included.   A usable log fire is also an advantage as this can quickly warm the fabric of the house.   An outside Bar-B-Q is almost always a feature and this can be used on almost all days.

A couple of contacts for reliable renting agents:

1.   Contact Walter or Marianne. This agency is in Cabanas just a few miles from Tavira and they speak excellent English.

2.   Telephone Ms Hebe Parreira 00351 919 132 620   Email:

Hebe has some excellent villas in Altura at knockdown prices for winter letting.

Security:   At present Portugal does not suffer the serious crime problems that are legendary on the east coast of Spain.   During the journey, one needs to take care when parked around hotels as a fully loaded car is obviously likely to be an attractive target. At the Ibis hotel in Poitiers, some 60 litres of Diesel was syphoned from a Landrover Freelander, a task that could not have taken less than an hour.   Given that the vehicle was parked with 2 metres of the hotel front door, it doesn't take Hercule Poirot to determine that the night duty staff must be part of the racket.

Medical: The area has an ample number of Doctors, Dentists and Vets, the great majority of whom speak excellent English. Treatment can be obtained under European

Travel Insurance:   It is wise to check the terms and conditions of your travel insurance. Certain policies restrict the time you may spend out of UK. However, it is usually possible to extend the term for a small additional premium. It is also wise to check your motor and household insurance and make appropriate changes where necessary.

Pets:   Pet insurance is usually restricted to two months out of the country.   However, other matters are less complex than you would at first think. Each pet requires a Pets Passport and there is an excellent guide on the subject at   In essence, the animals need to be chipped and have certain injections before the passport is issued. Travel within continental europe is unimpeded, but on return to UK the animals need to see a Vet not less than 24 and not more than 48 hours before catching the ferry back to UK.   The best way to cope with this is to arrive back in Calais by midday and make an early afternoon appointment with the excellent Vet in the centre of Calais. You can then stay overnight in Calais and catch an early afternoon ferry or the tunnel.   If you catch the ferry it is usually a lot cheaper, but it does mean that animals stay in the car during the crossing.   For most animals this is not a problem as they are happy to sleep in the car.

Tip:   If you are taking your dog(s) on this type of long journey, consider putting their beds on the rear seat of the car. This familiar territory should settle them and they will sleep most of the journey.

Tip: Consider using the veterinary practice in the centre of Calais. The parking is easy, the practice very efficient and the charges reasonable (2008 cost €46 per dog). Contact: Dr Clarys DELVAL, 11 Place Crevecour, Calais. Tel: 03 21 71 00

E-mail:   There are numerous internet cafes in the area and most locations have a wi-fi area where it is possible to get a free wireless connection to the internet.

Telephone:   If you use your UK mobile for UK or internal calls in Portugal, the costs are high. If you are going for a couple of months, it is worth going to the TMN Network shop in Tavira to purchase a local 'pay-as-you-go' mobile phone.   €50 buys a local network phone with a €5 call credit. Using this phone for UK or internal calls will save you a lot of money for a very small outlay.

Travel Options (Top of Page)

If you don't feel like driving to the Algarve, there are perfectly good flights to Faro at very competitive prices and it is possible to hire a small car on arrival for as little as €10 per day. However, if you are intending a stay of more than a couple of weeks, you will find it difficult to carry all the things you would ideally like to have with you. In order to cope with the warm sunny days, but the chilly nights, you need a greater variety of clothing than for an ordinary holiday. You will also want to take with you more of the personal possessions that form a part of everyday life at home. Travelling by car that is easy, by air it is not.

If you have questions about this article please feel free to e-mail us at: with the Subject: Algarve for the Winter. Copy and paste the e-mail address into your e-mail client. We cannot hotlink due to the spam problem.